Terrifically Beautiful: the poetry of Ajay Mehmi

Ajay Mehmi has a glorious beard and a gentle demeanour. After some time, his charm and wit also reveal themselves, along with an easy-going attitude.  

Mehmi is a creative who channels his experiences, emotions and opinions into various art forms including visual art, prose, music and poetry.  

His laissez-faire attitude is manifested as a disregard for traditional rules and structures. It also lends his work, which often focuses on heavier themes and ideas, a lighter ambiance. 

“What makes a poem a poem is not really something that I’m too familiar with. So when I write I like to just call it prose. And then it starts to take a form and whether or not either myself or the reader or whoever I’m holding hostage, to listen to it wishes to refer to it as a poem that is completely up to them,” Mehmi said.  

Like, if I’m happy with something, I’m happy…,” he said. 

Recently, Mehmi was longlisted in the Kitchener Public Library’s Dorothy Shoemaker Poetry Contest for his poem, “the Wilding fox of Nappanee”. The poem was written as he drove down Highway 7 toward Ottawa. Although it was inspired by a particular person, this poem grew into a cyclical saga of the protagonist and a journey down the highway for the reader.  

Much of Mehmi’s writing comes from a place of hyper focus and lucidity. He tends to obsess over topics and added that he lives with undiagnosed OCD. 

“For some pieces and for the pieces that really fucking got you and really make me feel something…I take sort of like a Methodist approach. An approach that is immersive,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever channelled something that wasn’t invented in my own mind. But I’ll channel i’ll channel a character or something that I’ve created and right from their perspective that approach is like, a bit scary. And it involves like a great deal of dedication. It can be very emotional, and sometimes uncomfortable.”  

In his poetry, Mehmi explores his interest in the idea of a baser self. For example, his poem, “Growl” is made up largely of short, sharp sounds and actions. These are followed by sentences that show some evolution into sentience—such as, “Read my scales./Beware.”—but continue to represent a more basic instinct. 

Mehmi takes this idea even further in, “Reaktor,” where a delusional and hallucinating man is cornered by the enemy whose extent of existence is unclear. 

Using imagery of mushrooms which are used by plants to communicate with each other, many also shows the protagonist’s need to be a part of some bigger consciousness, to continue living after death. 

This is also one way in which many intertwines complex motivations and thought processes into simpler truths of being—e.g. imagery of mushrooms, uncertain enemies, weapons and battles ultimately come down to a stubborn man. Scared of dying but resigned to it.  

In the same poem, Mehmi also uses onomatopoeia—words which imitate sounds after which they are named. The reader’s understanding of the sound changes as they learn more context.  

I guess I’m just trusting the reader a little bit, but, this shit is so fucking self-indulgent. I’m not thinking about the reader when I’m writing it as well…It’s like, what do I wanna read? I don’t need context because I already have it in my head. But it’s gonna develop in front of you, you’re gonna see it, you will have to earn the context to get to the end and maybe read it again, you know,” Mehmi said.  

This sound ties into cadence and tone, of which Mehmi makes heavy use. He expresses different ideas through different characters, which also speak in different ways, each character has a unique voice.  

In “H.”, a poem about an STD, the character expresses his speech through the spelling and contraction of words. 

For example, the line “’cided to take ‘em out. / ‘for the Moon falls out the sky, is missing syllables and words that the character would skip. 

“It’s written the way that H. Tooth speaks. So, the punctuation is not being used to punctuate, it’s being used to establish the cadence of the voice…It’s kind of like a little bit of fuck you to writing as an educated person,” Mehmi said. 

Although his writing and characters and voice shift throughout his work, many still creates beautiful, sometimes terrifying, art.  

“What do I find beautiful? Human wolves…Sharp teeth,” he said.  

As Mehmi has grown over the last several years, his work has mirrored his personal transformation. This process also included going to therapy and understanding himself better period. 

“I think for me, personally, there is like this massive like shadow of transformation that sort of looms over a lot of my writing,” he said.”I’m really just sort of like obsessed and enamoured with the idea that being able to change and obsessed and enamoured with the concept of transformation. Those things are just so beautiful to me. I don’t know- like, I feel something just saying that.” 

To see more of Mehmi’s art, visit @h_tooth on Instagram.